November 5, 2008

Change, Please be Real!

p.s. Derek, Maj, Victor and myself played Super Turbo during the election coverage, I played Blue Zangief all night for the Dems!

September 10, 2008

Social Software

Oh it's been a long time since I have updated this thing, sorry about that to those of you that stop by from time to time. Life has been owning me up as of late with lots of consulting jobs that require travel, marathon training (portland marathon on october 5th), and getting married to the love of my life in less than 10 days.

So while I would love to write something worth reading, my mind has been mush so I am going to point you towards something that I have been thinking about lately anyhow. This is a great article trying to put its finger on the uses and future of social software design, Social Software! I really like the idea of user content being a beacon of the past. My soon to be wife says Facebook connected her with people from her school whom she rarely talked to during school. I asked her if its because much like family they are links to your past and you all share a common persepective to which she replied "maybe". Then only a few days later this article was sent to me by a developer friend, I love the way things are connected in this new information driven world!

I will not be updating until sometime in October when the wedding and marathon are over and life sort of returns to normal, now you can't blame me for wasting your time because I did not update... you know who you are!

July 16, 2008

My E3, Come Back!

I am not sure what the deal is with E3 there days because I don’t buy this whole idea that E3 is too expensive to have it the old way. Last time I checked the industry has been growing each an every year and many reports state that the recession will have little to no effect. So what gives, it must be all that money being dished out to the teams actually making the games... nope. I mean come on putting on a show that gives the industry a week of positive media coverage must have its disadvantages, right? Well whatever the reason, the new show is asstacular… so indulge me in my fond memories of the real E3!

My E3 badges 1999-2006 (1998 is M.I.A.)

#10 – Crashing the Show
Making fake badges to gain entry in the hopes of landing a job in the industry. (It actually worked on both accounts)

#9 – Gotta Catch 'Em All
Battling people for Pokemon plush toys being fired out of a giant Pikachu cannon in Atlanta. I did not even know what a Pokemon was at that point but it was cool to catch them all! Oh yeah it was HOT as HELL in Atlanta but they did have Mo’ Better Chicken, great name, great food.

#8 – Kentia Hall a.k.a. Little Korea
I swear every crazy sprite based MMO known to mankind was shown in that hall at some point during the history of E3. Back in the day it used to be the best place to find free snacks but they too must have felt the money pinch because each year there was less and less snacks to be foraged.

#7 – The Pantry
If you don’t know then you missed out on the best place to eat during E3.

#6 – Exhibitor Badge
Oh man, you could go in early, stay late, go the day ahead of time… it was Glorious! Brady Games always took care of a few of us that used to write for them in the early days so thanks Christian, Leigh, and Ken! These people get extra props for bringing in Martin Leung to play any game theme under the sun.

#5 – Joel Jewett Face Plant
COMEDY, that is all I can say. Neversoft president drops into the half pipe at the Tony Hawk booth, slams face first into the ramp pulling off a jaw breaker grind. I heard there might have been alcohol involved but hats off to Joel for going all out. I wish there was a video of this because it puts the CliffyB chainsaw curtain entrance to shame!

#4 - Capcom Press Tournaments
Each year Capcom would hold these tournaments for the press but the usual suspects from the fighting game community would always sneak in and totally demolish the competition. I was fortunate to get into 3 of these, MvC2, SFEX2 and Power Stone. I lost to Alex Valle in SFEX2 and some crazy Cable shit in MvC2. Power Stone would be one of my lesser moments, as my first opponent was girl. All I remember was playing Gunrock, using the hammer and being boo’ed into the semifinals where I lost, sad day :(

#3 – The People, Friends, and Peers
I like playing a new game, talking to someone that worked on it. Talking games with old friends that have moved away to companies in other states or countries. Meeting people like Tim Schafer and him giving me the time of day, literally and figuratively.

#2 – X-men: The Next Dimension
The first game I worked on being shown at E3! There were these awful models at the booth dress like Storm, Psylocke, and Rogue, which we all know is code for this game is terrible. It was a proud moment to be part of the show for real but the game was really bad and I apologize if you bought it and hated it.

#1 – The Plush Carpet
The minute you hit the show floor there is this soft stuff under your feet making you feel all cozy. Sadly it is a horrible trick that soon wears off and leads to aching backs and sore legs at the end of the show. All that being said I miss that feeling under my feet so bring it back JERKS!

E3 is not always amazing, lots of headaches caused by loud music. Shitty crunch time leading up to the E3 demo always sucked. Traffic jams getting to Staples Center and the lame $20 dollar parking. Nintendo booth lines, they really have mastered the art of the queue. Smelly people! I am sure the list goes on and on but I want the old E3 back dammit!

I think Mouth from The Goonies said it best…
“Yeah, but you know what? This one, this one right here. This was my dream, my wish. And it didn't come true. So I'm taking it back. I'm taking them all back.”

Here are a few pictures from my very first E3 when none of us made games and life was a whole lot simpler. People were skinny back then!

July 7, 2008

Little Jimmy in Iowa

I recently went back home to Ohio to see my cousin graduate from High School. The trip was a quick 4-day stay full of family and friends that felt long over due, there’s just something about Ohio in the summer.

Anyhow, there was this graduation party for my cousin and her boyfriend where they told me one of their friends was really excited that I was coming because he loved the God of War series. Now I am not one for attention of any sort so I was feeling a little awkward about the whole encounter, luckily there was this amazing graduation cake there which I had 5 to 12 pieces of to ease my mind. Then out of nowhere my cousin taps me on the shoulder and says, “there he is, be ready”. The kid wanders around for a good hour before coming over to say “hey, don’t want to take too much of your time but I love the games and thank you”. I am like hey thanks, no problem, glad you liked them etc… and he starts to walk away.

Suddenly I get this flash back to a late night on God of War where Dave, Derek, and I are working on some battle tuning and Dave gets all pissed shouting “Little Jimmy in Iowa will fucking hate this”. It’s late mind you and everyone is on edge and we are like what in the hell is he going on about now. After a few minutes we get it and remember what it is like to be playing a game that feels like it was made just for you, the little guy out there bored and looking to be entertained. Dave wanted God of War to fulfill the promise of being made just for you, not for designers who think they are cool and clever, but a game made for that monster hiding inside all of us. So that became a motto for the team and one that you will still hear at Santa Monica Studios. No doubt David Jaffe has instilled this idea into the people at Eat Sleep Play for his upcoming projects. Hell, I made sure to pass it along to the Ready at Dawn team when I started working with them on Chains of Olympus. I am sure Derek Daniels has passed it on to the many teams he comes in contact with over at Activision. Even our good friend David Sirlin has adopted the phrase in a few blog comment posts and other media. It’s that good and everyone can get behind it and run with it, think of it as Babel Fish for ideas that will resonate with the masses!

Side story – example: I remember when Dave first showed me all the things that were unlocked when you finished the game for the first time, I was like AWESOME, I love that so much is unlocked at once… he goes “Really, not too much” to which I reply no way! A few days later some decisions were made about this and that with regards to the unlocking which significantly decreased what was unlocked that bummed me out. Well, when Dave saw this he threw a fit (rightfully so in this case) and said “If this is not fixed we will not get that AWESOME face lighting up that Eric had when Little Jimmy in Iowa finishes the game for the first time”. Of course it was fixed and the tradition of unlocking lots on first finish was echoed in all other GoW titles.

Sometimes a simple motto is all the team needs to drive the soul of the game home no matter if it is a puzzle, boss fight, or the reward for finishing the game. I believe “Little Jimmy in Iowa” became a decision-making filter for the intangible and incompressible parts of the vision so the game felt cohesive and consistent.

Back to my meeting at the graduation party, as the kid was walking away, I go damn this is living breathing “Little Jimmy in Iowa” or in this case “Not so Little Josh in Ohio”. I stop Josh and say hey what are you going to school for to which he replies Computers or something. We start chatting about how he might be able to get into games and what to take in college. At the end I was smiling knowing that we hit the mark with our motto and it made me very proud to be a game designer. So this one is for you Josh, take care and hope to see you at the table designing games one day for “Little Jimmy in Iowa”!

p.s. “Little Jimmy in Iowa” used in conversation by Derek Daniels

Mr. Barlog: Haha - of course you didn't get everything that you wanted (and for the record neither did El Jeffe) it was an exaggeration to get a point across. Your job (or anyone doing your job) is to push the team to get the most out of them and to do what is best for the game. Your job's #1 priority should always be about the game (aka little jimmy in Iowa). The producer's job should be able to figure out how to get that done without killing the team.

p.p.s. Just think it could have been you Missouri, you’re in the middle too.

May 19, 2008

Difficulty Bandwagon

It’s seems “difficulty” is a hot topic in games these days! A few sites I visit on the interwebs, Gamasutra and The Escapist, have posted articles on difficulty recently so I figured why not chime in on the topic.

Why do games have “difficulty settings” in the first place? Could it simply be blamed on the primordial soup that was the arcades of the 80’s designed to steal every last quarter known to mankind. Maybe it was something else all together like the gaming illuminati, you know the same people that make up TRC’s and killed Gunpei! Honestly, I cannot answer this but I think “difficulty” should be treated as a genre unto itself!!!

In my eyes Challenge vs. Entertainment is the dividing line for difficulty as a genre. The game can be made to punch the player in the face and split their skull or simply take them on a roller coaster ride with lots of ups and downs. Hardcore players seek these challenges yet complain about entertainment games being too easy which is sort of silly because if the game is good then who cares. I really don’t see people coming out of a summer blockbuster griping about the movie not challenging them on some level, they went to be entertained. Well price point makes gamers care but that is an entirely different can of worms, the same for game length, and the dreaded replay-ability argument.

Let’s face it, our audience is changing, getting older, growing broader so to me that is the easiest place to start. Who is the intended audience of the game?

Long ago people made games for people to toil over and were presented as challenges against this thing called the computer! Nowadays people make games for entertainment, exercise, learning, and to challenge not just the computer but each other. The only light at the end of the tunnel for a designer to follow through the darkness of difficulty is the intended audience.

I feel like most games fall down right out of the gate because they forget to ask the question, “Who is going to play this game”? Have you ever played that new kids game that is so not made for kids, I bet you have and I bet the publisher was scratching their head asking why the scores are so low and sales are shit. Well I bet they broke the golden rule and made a kids game for game designers, Ernest Adams should beat them with a Twinkie! Know your audience, play test with them not your designers or QA people that have been playing the same game for months or years on end!

Random tidbits that show my inability to write a cohesive blog post…

Lend a helping hand: (things I have seen work)
So what is a designer to do, well try to hide any sort of assistance so it is there but unobtrusive. I like things like pity health increases, this goes way back the 8-bit days; say you are about to die and a few random health packs fall out of an enemy. The reward should be just enough to keep the fight going but keep you in the danger zone, if you come out alive you have that nail biter but fuck yeah I kicked their ass feeling, sounds like the player will continue playing instead of powering down.

Boost the health just a little after “X” repeated deaths, just a small amount and continue doing it each death thereafter until a max replenish threshold is reached. Boss fights work so much better using this technique instead of making the player do more damage, the boss do less damage, or the boss become less active. The player may never even know this is going on but they are constantly in better shape each time they die.

Good check point and save system, not much to say other than use common sense and do not punish the player. It’s all about workload and how much work you want the player to do time and time again. Checkpoint after major events, cut scenes (yes watching a cut scene is work), stage transitions in long battles or boss fights, and long exploration sequences.

Beat your game on the normal setting not powering anything up and using the standard attacks. The God of War combat team always made it a point to beat the game on normal mode using only the square combo and the required Context Sensitive moves, no evades, no blocking, no magic, no nothing. If you can do this then it is safe to say most people can do it with all the other tools you have given them.

Tune easy mode to be seriously easy, it should be a full on change of thinking not some 15% reduction in the difficulty values. Change the damage the player takes, inflicts, increase gain of all commerce, add more hints and messages, and slow down the moment-to-moment action whenever possible. I called it “Girlfriend mode”, not meant to be derogatory just a fact that my girlfriend could not get past the opening level on normal without dying 20 times but on easy only died 2 times.

Understand the “Threshold of Fun”! Derek and I always had this idea that if you die 5 times in an area or lose 5 matches in any game straight, that is the “Threshold of Fun”, the point where it is no longer fun at all. Sure it’s not science but when someone said something was not fun and we saw they died 8 times well we tuned it so they died 5 times and it was fun all of a sudden… shrug.

Believe it or not companies make games to make money, SURPRISE! So why in the hell do they want to make hard games that limit the audience or worse make the game so hard those who did buy the game cannot finish it. Don’t they want you coming back for the next installment? Most people will argue that great games bring people back regardless of difficulty and I agree with that but finishing a game counts towards the game being great! Beyond the fact that lots of people spent lots of time making a whole game not just part of a game, there is no benefit in not allowing the player to complete the game. Imagine if people went to see Lord of the Rings and it was it was a silent movie in black and white, seems difficult for most people to watch, I wonder if those people would come back for the next two movies. Obviously this all breaks down with competitive games but again that is an entirely different subject.

I hate Dynamic Difficult Adjustment (DDA)!!! If I want to play on easy then it better damn well be easy, not switch invisibly to hard just because I am kicking ass on easy. Conversely if I sign up for ass kicking hard mode then don’t pander to me when I am not getting it, its not going to help me learn anything. People used to get pissed at the “Do you want to switch to Easy Mode” menu in God of War because they felt insulted but it was usual a hardcore player that hated the menu. I think the menu helped a lot more people finish the game even if they are not willing to admit they used it, but when you are having fun alone does it really matter you took at step back, of course not!

WTF is with leveling creatures to always be near my level, yes Puzzle Quest I mean you… I hear Oblivion does this too but I did not play it. If this is going to happen why even have leveling, I never feel powerful because of my level ups since the enemies keep pace. Thank goodness you can turn this off in Puzzle Quest but damn it I was halfway through by the time I saw that option, JERKS!

Well I started off with good intentions and ended up cursing and calling people jerks (Sorry Puzzle Quest makers), it happens.

Thanks for reading!

May 8, 2008

Finally Home

What a whirlwind tour it has been over the last few weeks, I have only been home for a total 48 hours since April 17th! The new business is keeping me very busy which is a good thing but all this travel is kicking my butt. I wish it was possible to talk about all the projects I am associated with but NDA's are a plenty so mums the word for now.

Getting out to visit a lot of different companies is amazing. I am learning a lot while giving what I can only hope is a lot back. While that is all fine and well, dammit I miss working with my friends that I grew up with in this industry, namely Derek and Cory but hopefully we can all circle back around later in our careers, at least I hope so...

Oh I went to this fun design night called Pecha Kucha, which is rough japanese for "chit-chat" A bunch of people in design related fields meet up and give presentations on all kinds of topics like city planning and graphic design. The killer part is the format, each presenter has 20 slides and talks about each one for 20 seconds. What I really like about this is that all the concepts are quite digestible and if the topic is not something you are into it only lasts 6:40 so no big deal. The night also starts at 20:20, 8:20 for us non euro/military people but the 20:20 obviously relates to the presentation format. I think there was about 20 presenters as well but we did not stay for the entire night. Los Angeles has one this sunday so maybe check it out if it's your thing, I'd be going but it's back on an airplane again... sad day.

Random other tid-bits...

SEA COWBOYS! If you have not read this story get busy now! It's like the A-team meets Deadliest Catch meets Armegeddon, do I really have to sell this any harder?

No More Heroes was really fun even though the open world parts were not so great minus dumpster diving. Dumpster diving was the best use of a chest system in a modern city layout ever in my opinion. The Wii was happy for two days because I actually used it. I'll be there day one for the Suda-51 / Kojima team up that is in the works, Project S?

I bought an iMac! The first week was a nightmare since the last time I used a mac was Apple IIE in grade school. Once I got over all that I love how everything sort of works together and falls into place. An iBook is in my future since traveling is not going to let up. But seriously why does the "End key" always go the bottom instead of the end of the line, I will never get used to that EVER!

I have yet to see Iron Man, this bums me out :(

GTA4 came out and I have yet to buy it, I most definitely fall into this "Category"

Finally God of War: Chains of Olympus is the #1 PSP game of all time at the moment, let's celebrate with a little Zero Punctuation Review!

p.s. I will try to update more often, if I lag too much yell at me in the comments please and thank you!

March 16, 2008

From a land down under

Fourteen hours on a plane was only made possible with some Puzzle Quest on the DS and a whole row to myself to lay down and pseudo sleep. Boy was it worth it, Sydney is beautiful and quite walk-able which is something I dislike about sprawling Los Angeles. I think running the LA Marathon is the only time I will see so much of Los Angeles on foot. Anyhow, got another stamp in the passport and well on my way to knocking out all the places I want to see in the world. Next up Italy again for the wedding and hopefully Greece and Egypt in the near future. Well enough about travel since most people come here to read something video game related.

Honestly I am way too tired to talk about any of that so I am going to leave myself a reminder note here to force myself to post about why I think books and games have more in common than movies and games and why I think Orisinal is the equivalent of poetry. On second thought it's not all that deep so I am going to ramble on about it now. To preface, this is how I watch a movie... no talking if at all possible, no bathrooms breaks, no interruptions period unless I have already seen it and even then this annoys me with the exception of great quotable comedies with a group of friends after repeat viewings.

A book can be read at any pace and a movie is watched at the pace of the director. A game no matter if it is a board game or video game is played at its own pace. Often I will re-read a page or even chapter of a book multiple times to soak it all in, games tend to do a similar thing with re-spawning battles or repeating events upon death... where a film keeps on going with or without you.

I suppose it can be argued that some games impose a timer such as speed chess or sporting events but in games timers are usually legacy design from the early days and arcades, now a day it is rare to find a game that is shackle by a timer. Similarly one could argue movies can be controlled with rewind and scene selection but who really enjoys a movie with those options?

The reality is that enjoying something at your own pace is a very important distinction when consuming and enjoying entertainment. Books and games allow a high level of control when it comes to the experience where movies offer a much lower level of control, yet both can stir emotions and entertain. At the end of the day it’s not a matter of one being better than the other but a matter of how much control a person has over the experience.

Like I said this is not all that well thought out and requires a lot more research but it has always been on my mind and a talk with a good friend brought it back into focus during my trip. Hopefully I will get some time to think about it more and expand this idea because I think there is a lot to be learned from books and how they are crafted that we sometimes miss out on because of the obvious relationship games share with movies on the visual and audible fronts. Perhaps games can be the harmonious hybrid of the two mediums? Drop me a line if you have thoughts, conversation is wanted on this topic.

Well based on this scatterbrain idea I hope you can see why the games over at Orisinal might be the poetry of our world. Winterbells always brought this idea home to me for some reason!

p.s. I see a lot chapters in games and books have a lot of chapters!

February 29, 2008

The Battle of Marathon

Kratos is coming to the small screen in a big way come March and I had a little something to do with it as part of my new venture Short Short Super! I formed Short Short Super back in October 2007 with the intention of working as a design consultant and my first client was Ready At Dawn on God of War: Chains of Olympus. It always feels great to ship a game but this one was a little more special since it was the first along my new path in the video game industry. Big thanks to Ru Weerasuriya, Eric Koch, and Allan Becker for putting their heads together to make this happen.

The only thing better than finishing my first consultant gig would be great reviews and that is the case with a current average of 9.4! Perhaps this will help my client list grow but hopefully not too much, I do enjoy a little sleep now and again…

Congratulations to everyone at Ready At Dawn on an amazing game and continuing the God of War franchise, Dana, Mike B, Mike D, Max a.k.a. Code Bug, Tony, Derek, Phil, Jeremy a.k.a. Captain Cuddlesworth, Garret, Jerome, Carlo, Marc, Ru, Melissa, Jo, Nathan, John, Rachid, and everyone else I am forgetting, thanks for making my time down there amazing and good luck on the next great thing from RAD!

All while I was working on GoW:CoO, I was training for the Los Angeles Marathon. So each night after tucking Kratos and pals into bed I would be running the streets of Irvine at around midnight to get in my training miles. Oddly enough the city of Marathon is represented in the game so I had Marathon on the brain day and night. Well my fiancée and I will run 26.2 miles of Los Angeles City in our own little Battle of Marathon at 8:15am this Sunday!

Oh yeah GDC happened last week as well and it was my first time going because I am usually knee deep in the development process. Most of the time I hung out with people that I have not seen in a long time so that was cool but I was cheap and did not attend the sessions so I guess I missed out on the real GDC experience, maybe next year.

Derek and I got some one on one time with SF4 and that was pretty cool, even got to speak to Ono-san via translator/producer extraordinaire Ben Judd. We told Ono-san how Kratos has a lot of Street Fighter in him and he laughed wildly then said something like “Capcom needs better lawyers” which made us all laugh. The game is beautiful in motion and promises to bring back what has been long lost. I played a lot of Zangief and that was my GDC highlight!

Derek playing Ono-san, nice photo Seth!

Citizen Cupcake was my fuel while running the Embarcadero at midnight, marathon training never ends. Seriously I had so many cupcakes up there the girl remembered me and even gave me some on the house to bring back to April the last night of GDC. When in the Bay go eat some cupcakes, lemon was my favorite!

February 15, 2008

And the winner is...

Good job Will!

So it's official no one reads this thing, not like that was a big surprise! Due to that sad fact the judging was quite simple because there was a single entry.

February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day Contest!

Ok kids here is your chance to win a limited edition God of War: Chains of Olympus T-Shirt (pics below for the impatient) made exclusively for the Ready At Dawn team members, well at least they told me that anyhow. The guys were kind enough to give me one for my help on the game but it is a little too big for me so I figured what the hell let someone win it!

What does it take to win you might be wondering, well it is simply. Create a Valentine's Day Card using God of War as the theme. The Card must be in JPEG format and must be received by 11:59pm PST on Thursday February 14th. You can enter as many times as you wish!

Send all entries to

The judging panel will be myself and a signed glamour shot of Cory Barlog!

The winner will be announced around 11am PST on Friday February 15th.

I know the time frame is short so no complaining because we all know you slackers work best when under pressure. Plus think about it you can use the card to hand out to those loved ones in your life as well, it is a gift that keeps giving. Good Luck!

DISCLAIMER: The contest has no affiliation with SCEA or Ready At Dawn Studios.

p.s. click pictures to make them all big and stuff...

January 22, 2008

Fight IV Your Right...


Mass Effect is getting a lot of press lately for some wild sex stuff! Fox News even decided to take time away from the coverage of Britney to make sure America was aware of this new threat. Our man in the trenches was Geoff Keighley and he put up "the good fight" so thanks for the effort Geoff even though you got closed out (check out the showdown here). Just think of this as practice for the real battles on the horizon with GTA:4.

Dear GTA:4,

Good Luck!


p.s. I almost forgot about you RE5, extra good luck to you sirs!

p.p.s. I feel this is still true, sadly!

January 17, 2008

Combat Cancelled

Normally I would not write this kind of article but since it is a new year and was sort of prompted by some God of War questions in the past and recently on Derek’s blog here I am. A lot of questions have always swirled around some of the attacks Kratos has in his arsenal, namely the L1+ Button special moves. The questions usually stem from the inability to “Cancel” these moves thus rendering them useless so to speak. Instead of just defending those moves I am going to examine the entire concept of move cancelling from its early days in fighting games to its cross pollination with action adventure games.

Let’s start with the grand daddy of them all Street Fighter 2: World Warrior. There is a legend that one day during early tests of this game out in California a guy named Tomo Ohira was destroying people in the game with some crazy technique where he could link certain moves together that normally could not be linked together, thus creating a combo by canceling! Ok so I was a kid in Ohio when I heard this so of course I believed it because Tomo Ohira was the best American Street Fighter player at the time. However, later I learned that this was a “bug” in the game and known by the development team in Japan but they thought it was too hard to execute to be useful so they left it in the game. Well it happens that the “bug” was the birth of the Cancel and Combo! The best example is roundhouse sweep cancel to fireball with Ryu, which I view as the catalyst for many other Street Fighter cornerstones such as zoning and footsies. So you get the point Street Fighter started it all and I just wanted to share some history so now onto how this affects action adventure games.

First let’s define a cancel just so we are all clear; a cancel is the ability to end one animation early by beginning another animation when the user manipulates of a series of branches in an animation tree through inputs on the controller, talk about clinical. Without diving into all the nuts and bolts of a combat system I am going to breakdown cancels by type and method. Cancel types fall into 2 core groups; “Partial Cancel” and “Complete Cancel”.

A “Partial Cancel” allows an animation to be canceled at specific windows during the animation. The two most common conditions for a “Partial Cancel” are pre-hit frame (the animation can be cancelled any time before the first frame of the hit) and post-hit frame (the animation can be cancelled any time after the last frame of the hit).

A “Complete Cancel” allows an animation to be cancelled at anytime during the animation. Of course I am generalizing and there are special nuances that exist in certain games but for the most part these conditions are used 99% of the time.

The methods I am going to cover are the ones that account for the bulk of all games and they are "Buffer" and "Instant".

The "Buffer" method stores and executes the user’s command when the cancel window is valid. The "Buffer" method in a well-designed game can be cancelled itself with other commands before the cancel window is valid to ensure the highest quality of responsiveness.

The "Instant" method accepts and executes the user’s command on the frame of input when the cancel window is valid. The "Instant" method allows the player to delay the timing which adds to the overall responsiveness of the game.

Now for an example: We have an animation called “Square01” that is played when we press the Square button, the animation is 60 frames long and has a hit frame window from frame 15 to frame 20. (see the pseudo combat scripting below)

//60 frames
Animation = Square01

//hit frames
On = 15;
Off = 20;

//attack cancel
Anim = Square02; Button = Square; On = 0; Off = 21; Method = Buffer;
Anim = Square02; Button = Square; On = 21; Off = 60; Method = Instant;

//block cancel
Anim = Block; Button = L1; On = 0; Off = 60; Method = Instant;

What does all that mean you might be asking yourself? Notice the On/Off parameters, these are frame values and determine the range of the cancel window. The method parameter assigns the type of cancel, see the definitions above if you have forgotten already. We can now determine that “Square01” can never be cancelled Pre-hit frame with the square button since the frame range is 0-21, instead the square button can be buffered until Post-hit frame 21. We can also determine that “Square01” can be instantly cancelled at anytime Post-hit frame since the frame range is 21-60. It also says that the L1 button can cancel “Square01” instantly at anytime thus making it a Complete Cancel since the frame range is 0-60. If this made any sense at all, now imagine doing this for every possible animation a character has in their arsenal and how they relate to gameplay systems such as parry, block, counter, walk, run, jump, double jump, magic, throw, reactions, etc… To give you a little perspective, Kratos had roughly 4000 cancel branches in God of War 2 with many more parameters to be tweaked per cancel branch.

Bored yet? I promise to stop being technical right now!

What can a well-implemented cancel system add to a game? First off it usually determines if a game has that lagged out feel or is crisp and super responsive. From a defensive point of view it creates that feeling of a best offense is a great defense. The player can just bang with the enemies but guard cancel to generate new holes in the enemy’s game. Guard canceling in Soul Calibur is super fun because it has Pre-hit frame canceling only which allows the player to fake attacks creating a whole new layer of mind games. Street Fighter 3 and Marvel Series make great use of super move cancels, which looks flashy in the traditional Capcom vein while promoting heavy offensive style gameplay. Also you might note that cancels are so good in some games that they actually require meter to perform like in the Guilty Gear series. It's almost impossible to factor all the changes one type of cancel system can have on a game, one such case is CvS2 and the infamous "Roll Cancel" where certain moves can become invincible based on a cancel bug, talk about an oops. Ultimately though it comes down to fun vs. abusiveness but mostly a great cancel system equals depth and allows the player to be super creative which helps increase the fun and sense of achievement.

Here some thoughts on the top three games in the action adventure genre, in no particular order Ninja Gaiden, Devil May Cry, and God of War. Placing the game I worked on for nearly 4 years in the top three will surely drum up some interesting comments, can’t wait… this is why I do not write about the games I work on if at all possible.

Ninja Gaiden is very strict when it comes to canceling so strict in fact that not a single animation that I am aware of can be canceled Pre-hit frame. I feel this is a great rule when trying to build a solid foundation for the combat gameplay but also adds to the difficulty. The player knows when they press a button to attack it must complete its hit frame before another animation can take place. Here is a funny thing about that rule, it is so true that the player cannot even pause the game because they could swap weapons and cancel before the hit, don’t believe me try it out. The game is made to be hardcore and for the hardcore so they use rules that help establish a fair play field if the player is willing to learn the system to the point of flawless execution. I applaud Itagaki and Team Ninja for their effort and contribution to the genre!

Devil May Cry follows many of the same rules that Ninja Gaiden does but in true Capcom fashion they have to drop the style bomb all over rules and add in some broken stuff just for fun! The main cancel system that drives DMC is the alteration between Melee and Projectile attacks. I believe that all Melee attacks are all Post-hit frame cancels and the Projectile attacks are governed by the rate of fire. Since there are between 5-6 Melee and Projectile weapons the combinations create for quite the learning curve and when you add in the styles the possibilities are staggering. Depth is the result but in a much more chaotic and flashy manner then the technical presentation found in Ninja Gaiden. Nevertheless there is no doubt that DMC is an acquired taste from the dark moody art to wise cracking cocky Dante himself but when you get it, you get it and the rabid fans for this series will always let you know they get it!

God of War unlike the other two games allows for many Pre-hit frame cancels and incorporates several of the methods found in the other two games. The main difference is that it is not trying to be a hardcore game from neither a technical nor flashy point of view. It’s just smash and kill fun with some goodies tossed in under the hood for the fans of the other games that gave us a shot while they waited for the next installment of Ryu’s or Dante’s saga. The rules for canceling are all over the place but for good reason, our intended audience does not want to learn the techniques, they just want the game to play the way they think it should because combat is not the only focus unlike the other two games.

So what about the L1+Button specials and why they cannot be cancelled? The moves in question are by far the strongest damage inflicting attacks Kratos has that stem from a simple button command, they hit many creatures at once in most cases, leave the creature in a vulnerable state, or in some cases both. The moves also serve as a little flash and make beginners feel really powerful when they see the blades spinning all over the place. Like I said before the other games only have Post-hit frame canceling and use this to teach the player, watch before you attack. God of War allows almost all of the basic attacks be cancelled anywhere including Pre-hit frame to make life easier on the player. The L1+Button specials possess enormous damage potential in certain situations and thus are not able to be cancelled until Post-hit frame for balance reasons (infinite lock down loops mostly). Moreover for novice players they are used to teach the concept of risk vs. reward without placing this burden on the basic combat which would make the game much harder for the average player. I know this can be argued from many different angles with regards to balancing but trust me I have heard them all and this was the decision we made but feel free to tell me how foolish we were anyhow.

At the end of the day you have to look at your intended audience and I think we captured our audience the best we could. To those that were left upset and disappointed because of 4 little moves in the game that cannot be cancelled earlier then I am sorry you missed a much greater experience.

It’s easy to say God of War is flawed and this that and the other but the fact remains that it is the only American action adventure game to ever get the attention of the Japanese. I grew up playing their games and wanted to make a game that felt like a Japanese game but played balls out like an American movie and God of War allowed me to do that. It is not perfect but it spoke to some people and that is all we can hope for as game developers.

I know one thing for sure increasing the amount of canceling in a game decreases the possibility of the game being cancelled!

Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I will try to answer promptly!


p.s. God of War has some serious fun with cancels, press square once then try any of the following if you don’t believe me.

Walk (Navigation) = Post-hit frame
Jump = Pre-hit frame
Roll (Evade) = Pre-hit frame
Magic = Pre-hit frame
Throw = Pre-hit frame
Guard (Parry / Block) = Pre-hit frame
Weapon Swap = Post-hit frame